August 19, 2011
The announcement last year that the Vanier Cup and Grey Cup would be paired in Vancouver this November represented a great step in the evolution of CIS football, and we saw another significant step Friday. TSN announced that they've struck a multi-year deal for the Vanier rights for the next three years. However, the most important element there is that the deal also includes rights to the Hardy Cup (Canada West championship) and Mitchell and Uteck Bowls (national semi-finals). All will be televised live on TSN for the first time this season, and they're getting prime slots; those games will be shown live in the Friday Night Football slot, which has built a consistently large CFL audience.
This deal looks like a great one for both sides. For CIS, this is a significant step forwards in exposure; the Friday Night Football slot's one that consistently pulls high ratings for the CFL, and they should be able to retain at least some of that audience for CIS games. Moreover, having TSN televise some of the CIS playoffs should help build the audience towards the Vanier Cup broadcast. It's always easier to pull in viewers if they're familiar with the teams involved, and this should certainly help.
This also benefits TSN. The Hardy Cup game is the week of November 13, or the first week of the CFL playoffs, and both of those games are set for Sunday, as are both games the following week. Putting high-profile CIS football games on Friday both weeks allows TSN to spread football content throughout the weekend, and it also gives them some quality content to show in that valuable Friday night slot—and content that can be seen as pretty attractive to the numbers who consistently tune in for CFL Friday Night Football action.
This may also help publicize this year's Vanier Cup from a ticket sales standpoint. It can be tough for fans to get interested in a game if they don't know much about the teams or players involved. Sure, plenty of the guys involved in the Vanier Cup will go on to the CFL (147 players currently on CFL rosters played CIS football), but that's a more compelling attraction if individual players are talked up than if just the general statement is made. With this, it's pretty easy for fans who know nothing about CIS to get a basic primer on the Vanier players and storylines; just tune into the two weeks of CIS broadcasts beforehand. That may make what's already an affordable ticket (until September 16, those who have Grey Cup tickets can add a Vanier ticket for just $10 more) an even more attractive one.
For those who aren't going to be in Vancouver for the Vanier, it's still going to be awfully easy to tune in. The Vanier was on TSN last year, but at a ridiculously early start time on Saturday (possibly a good thing, as the game itself wasn't terribly pretty). Despite the 9 a.m. Pacific start time and the low-quality game (the Laval Rouge et Or, seen above hoisting the Vanier, thumped Calgary 29-2), 783,000 viewers still tuned in on TSN and RDS. Those numbers should only rise this year, thanks to the Vanier being broadcast live coast-to-coast at 9 p.m. Eastern Friday night, a prime slot and a perfect start to Grey Cup weekend.
There also will be plenty of eye candy for viewers of the Vanier. TSN takes things to a whole new level in terms of cameras and technology for their Grey Cup broadcasts, and Jim Mullin (director of marketing and communications for the 2011 Vanier) told me this week they'll have all that technology in place for the Vanier too.
"TSN is applying all the same resources to the Vanier they will to the Grey Cup," Mullin said.
It should also help that the Vanier Cup and Grey Cup organizing teams are working from the same playbook this time around. The last time the events were in the same city (2007 in Toronto), the Vanier did pretty well, but wasn't in sync with the Grey Cup events and the two wound up competing to a degree. This time, both organizing groups are working together, and Friday of Grey Cup week will be the Vanier's time to shine.
A lot of the Vanier's success will obviously depend on how much TSN promotes it, what the Vanier organizing committee does from here on in and how receptive people in Vancouver are to the idea of CIS football (something that hasn't been the easiest sell locally for some time, partly thanks to UBC's struggles), but there are plenty of positive signs here. Moreover, this multi-year deal and agreement to broadcast CIS playoff games suggest TSN's pretty committed to the university game. We'll see how it turns out, but there are lots of reasons for optimism.